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Firefighters’ lawsuit over cargo ship blasts moves to federal court

File photo
File photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A lawsuit filed by 10 Jacksonville firefighters who were injured last year while fighting a cargo ship fire at Blount Island has been transferred to federal court, News4Jax learned Friday.

The lawsuit, filed by the Pajcic & Pajcic law firm, holds Hoegh Autoliners and several other companies responsible for the firefighters’ injuries stemming from the cargo ship fire and resulting explosion.

The 15-floor cargo ship caught fire June 4, 2020, while it was docked at Blount Island. As fire crews fought the flames, an explosion occurred on the eighth deck. Despite wearing protective gear, several firefighters suffered severe burns. None died, but several were hospitalized.

In the end, it took more than 150 firefighters over a week to put out the fire, an effort that cost the city of Jacksonville millions of dollars.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims the cargo ship was loaded with 2,400 junked and wrecked cars that didn’t have their batteries and electrical systems disconnected.

Attorney Curry Pajcic, who represents the plaintiffs, said the ship had no flooding sprinkler system or standpipes that firefighters could have used. He said the ship’s crew shut down its fire alarm system while the ship was in port and did not call 911 when the fire started.

“These 10 firefighters are true American heroes,” Pajcic said at the time the lawsuit was first filed. “They ran into the storm, a storm created by an irresponsible company and ill-equipped crew and dangerous cargo. It was a recipe for disaster.”

Hoegh Autoliners, one of four companies named in the suit, has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying the firefighters don’t have legal grounds to claim the cargo ship wasn’t seaworthy.

The other defendants – Horizon Terminal Services, Grimaldi Deep Sea, SSA Marine – have also filed motions to dismiss.

The case has been referred to mediation. The judge presiding over the case said the first mediation must be held no later than March 2023.

If a settlement isn’t reached during mediation, a trial would be set to begin in July 2023.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.